Edward Gordon, a researcher, writer and speaker on workforce development, education reform and literacy gave AICPA governing council members an earful during a talk in New Orleans addressing the future of social and human resources.

Gordon, who is also president of Chicago-based Imperial Consulting, said the United States is in a knowledge economy and that “most Americans don’t understand that.”

[IMGCAP(1)]According to Gordon, the U.S. is facing a “talent enigma” driven by three “paradoxes” — technology, people and globalization. Unskilled jobs are disappearing and the days of high school graduates who can read at only sixth grade levels and still support their families are now over. He said the products and services that are going to emerge in the next 10 years will be equal to those that came about over the last 50 years.

“We have mediocrity all across the country,” Gordon said, noting that 90 million workers lack the reading, writing and math skills to do their jobs properly.

He classified the U.S. workforce talent into three categories: “techno peasants” (people who aren’t coming out of high school), “the walking dead” (those who don’t want to learn new skills), and “the smart people” (which the current system was designed for and supports).

“This is the first time in our history that the generation retiring is better educated than the generation that follows,” Gordon said. “This is the people paradox. Somewhere the technologies and the people are out of sync.”

There is a talent shortage not only in this country, but globally as well, according to Gordon.
“The bottom line for our country is we will not be able to import talent or export jobs to keep the U.S. economy because we do not have the talent,” he said. “Neither does anyone else.”

Between 2010 and 2020, 12 to 24 million jobs will be vacant, and 70 percent of those jobs will have to be filled by retiring Baby Boomers.

Gordon said companies don’t want to invest in their workers and the global education-to-employment system is broken worldwide.

“Not since the Second World War has there been so much that America needs to do in so little time,” Gordon said. “We have ’til 2020. Unless we enhance the current system between 2010 and 2020, as many as 10 to 20 percent of small businesses will simply disappear because they will not be able to fill key jobs. Their talent will be poached by larger companies.”

Gordon said the solution is to rebuild the pipeline. He called for tapping the untapped talent pool of “sequencing mothers” who enter and exit the labor force, as well as Boomers, the physically and mentally challenged, and people exiting the criminal justice system.
Work/life balance will continue to be very important; 54 percent of companies offer some form of flex time, Gordon noted.

“I predict not only will they catch on [to work/life balance], it will be an absolute necessity for companies to survive,” he said.

Gordon also stressed that increased productivity comes through workforce development — something that is being killed off in American business.

“We cut the heart out of our training budgets,” he said. “We need to invest in human and physical capital. The current business accounting standards are stacked against workplace learning. It classifies people as a workplace expense.”

Gordon asked AICPA council members to rework accounting standards to correct this. To achieve economic development, it takes technology, talent and teamwork.

“We have taken talent for granted too long,” he said.